Gautier native awarded Bronze Star

Published 5:30 pm Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Air Force Master Sgt. James W. Rigney Jr., a Gautier native, recently received the Bronze Star for Valor for his actions during the opening days of the second Iraqi war in March and April 2003.

Rigney was a tactical air control close-air support specialist attached to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division during the division’s drive to capture Baghdad.

Rigney helped control Air Force fighters and bombers making bombing and strafing runs close to American troops. He made sure pilots knew where American and Iraqi troops were before making their run to avoid friendly fire incidents.

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The Bronze Star citation says that while Rigney controlled the movements of planes and pilots, he “frequently engaged enemy personnel with his personal weapon, provided critical intelligence updates, and prevented his battalion from falling into several ambushes.”

Rigney was responsible for the destruction of at least 10 vehicles, including an armored vehicle, three buildings occupied by Iraqi troops, and a number of Iraqi troops, according to the citation.

Rigney said the work of the close-air support personnel is often overlooked.

“Most people in the Air Force don’t know we exist,” he said.

Rigney has been to Iraq four times, serving in the Gulf War in 1991 and the current war. He also has served in Afghanistan.